The world's greatest comedienne.
June 6, 2012 5:30 PM   Subscribe

I've been thinking about Lucille Ball lately. Here's her hysterically funny 1954 appearance as the mystery guest on What's My Line? Here's a later joint appearance with Desi Arnaz.

Here's Ball doing some pretty amazing improv (with a young Johnny Carson!) on I've Got a Secret.

Here's Ball playing Password with Vivian Vance.

Here's I Love Lucy: The Movie, the "lost" feature film consisting of three great episodes spliced together with some additional footage, including a peek at how the show was shot.

Here's the first episode of Life with Lucy (part 1 part 2), Ball's attempt at a comeback a few years before her death in 1989.

Here's Ball telling Bob Hope the story of auditioning for Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind.
posted by eugenen (24 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Honey! I'm hooooo-ooome!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:34 PM on June 6, 2012

LOVE the flat, kinda washed-out quality of the color on that I've Got a Secret clip. That limited color palette, the softness of it. I prefer it so much to the HD sharpness, the brittle clarity that we've become accustomed to.

That's a great bit on that video, by the way! Lucy's fantastic.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:41 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

A great Lucy and Desi movie? The Long Long Trailer. That movie has spawned family in-jokes that span 3 generations among us.
posted by jquinby at 5:46 PM on June 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

Lucy, 1930
posted by Trurl at 6:04 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

"hysterically funny"

I think that is exaggerating.
posted by PJLandis at 6:12 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Watch it PJ, that's easily one of the funniest humans that ever lived, that we're talking about.
posted by oddman at 6:47 PM on June 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

Ragu of beef!
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:16 PM on June 6, 2012

Those first two clips were adorable!
posted by 41swans at 8:30 PM on June 6, 2012

I'm not a fan of Lucy's work, but she was a very sharp businesswoman. When the broadcast network wavered over fears about the reception of her upcoming new sitcom, she pounced on them and bought out the complete rights for peanuts. A stunning deal, backed up by a lot of hard work and technical innovation.
posted by ovvl at 8:32 PM on June 6, 2012

Thanks Eugenen, this made my day! As you say, oddman, one of the funniest, and most charismatic, humans ever to walk this earth.

Was Lucy's Martian voice referencing her aliens-land-on-the-Empire-State episode? If so, why didn't it give the game away immediately?

Also, what was the "type of clothing" that Lucy was recently interested in? Maternity clothes?
posted by dontjumplarry at 8:33 PM on June 6, 2012

I regret that Richard Burton reciting the soliloquy from Richard II on The Lucy Show is no longer available from YT:

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison'd by their wives: some sleeping kill'd;
All murder'd: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear'd and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour'd thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!

Stick to plumbing!
posted by ovvl at 8:46 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

dontjumplarry: the contestant immediately before her was a maternity clothing salesman, yes. You can see that segment here.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:49 PM on June 6, 2012

That I've Got A Secret clip is hilarious. Yeah, Carson's reaction was priceless, as always.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:51 PM on June 6, 2012

she had really nice penmanship!
posted by fuzzypantalones at 8:56 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

As for penmanship on the blackboard, that's just standard cursive writing (with the exception of a slightly fancier B); just the way we was taught back in the 50's and 60's.
posted by rmmcclay at 10:36 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I LOVE Lucy!

My kids are always asking me what I am talking about when I say in a slurred voice, "Vitameatavegamin. It's so tasty too!"

(Hello friends. I'm your Vitameatavegamin girl. Are you tired, run-down, listless? Do you poop out at parties? Are you unpopular? The answer to all your problems is in this little bottle. Vitameatavegamin. Yes, Vitameatavegamin contains Vitamins Meat Vegetables and Minerals. Yes, with Vitameatavegamin, you can spoon your way to health. All you do is take a great big tablespoonful after every meal. Mmmmmmm..... It's so tasty, too! Tastes just like candy! So why don't you join all the thousands of happy peppy people and get a great big bottle of Vitameatavegamin tomorrow! That's Vita-meata-vegamin! (wink))
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:55 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

As for penmanship on the blackboard, that's just standard cursive writing (with the exception of a slightly fancier B); just the way we was taught back in the 50's and 60's.

Well maybe the 30s and 40s, but definitely Catholic school writing. My mother writes in exactly the same way.

Also observe how the at the end when Lucy is shaking hands with the panel, the gentleman stands while the ladies sit. Also a marker for that generation.

I Love Lucy.
posted by three blind mice at 1:38 AM on June 7, 2012

LOVE the flat, kinda washed-out quality of the color

heh I'm pretty sure that it was actually filmed in black and white, and had the colour added later. I actually had a job doing that ages ago, and the results looked just like that! what a strange job that was.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:05 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

The What's My Line thing is funny but I think the really surprising thing is how cute (in the little girl sense) and silly Lucy was there. The women on the panel are all speaking in these well-modulated tones and sophisticated phrasings and she's up there going "gribbit" and grinning. Furthermore when the game ends she seems kind of embarrassed to be speaking English.

And again on I've Got a Secret the same thing. At the beginning she seems uncomfortable and like she doesn't understand the point. But when "excited" comes up she goes right into it and switches instantly and with gusto. And amazingly Carson picks up on "romantic" after about .001 seconds somehow, although none of them seemed to notice her astounding transformation from "romantic" to "tipsy" without moving a muscle.
posted by DU at 4:29 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

A stunning deal, backed up by a lot of hard work and technical innovation.

Par for the course for her - she also put up money to produce Roddenberry's Star Trek series when no-one else would. A keen mind behind that goofy smile.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:35 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I watched the one clip and got caught in a web of YouTube videos that I'm only now emerging from an hour later. Beware all!
posted by discopolo at 8:50 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

My kids are always asking me what I am talking about when I say in a slurred voice, "Vitameatavegamin. It's so tasty too!"
JohnnyGunn, my Mom and I have been quoting that episode for years, too! Especially if she has a rare (for her) cocktail and she feels it starting to go to her head a bit. "Is it hot in here to you, Joe?" she'll ask in a slurred voice.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:41 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

DU: I don't want to rain on any parades, but I honestly don't think Ball did either of these shows totally off the cuff. She was not naturally a witty person (and she'd have been be the first to admit this) but through trial and error she developed a method of being funny that relied on detailed, precise writing and long hours of rehearsal. She did have a knack for being able to get up to speed on fairly complicated physical activities quickly. (There's an episode in which Lucy Ricardo wangles a job in a pizza parlor, leading to hilarity as she ineptly spins the dough, etc. Of course in order to get the "wrong" pizza-making timed correctly, she had to learn the right way. According to the anecdote, at the beginning of the rehearsal week Lucy didn't even know how to roll out the dough, but seven days later she made pizzas for the whole cast and crew at the wrap party.)

My guess is that the "Martian" character and even some of the specific nonsense words were devsied for her by Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll, who scripted I Love Lucy. The bit on I've Got a Secret I would think was also rehearsed, i.e., Ball knew what emotions she would be called on to play, in what order, and she probably worked out some of the gestures in advance.

By the time she did the second show she had played the entire run of I Love Lucy, so perhaps by that point she had confidence in what you might call a repertoire of Lucyisms: the raised-eyebrow suprised look, the dithering hand gestures and stammering to indicate excitement and so forth. So by that point I think she would trust herself to wing the answers to the panel's questions.

None of this is to denigrate Ball's talent: in a sense she was an old-school clown, one who very carefully honed teh timing of her act to maximize laughs even though she herself didn't have much of a sense of humor. There is a lot of charm, though, in her enjoyment of how well her performance is going over, which is perhaps one reason she was always at her best with a live audience. (Her comic film performances are mostly rather cold IMO, though she has some wonderful moments in the offbeat picture Dance, Girl, Dance.
posted by La Cieca at 12:49 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know a thing about Lucille Ball's trial and error - I have always assumed she worked really hard - but to call her cold? And to say she didn't have much of a sense of humor? Wow.
posted by goofyfoot at 5:44 AM on June 9, 2012

« Older The Future of Journalism   |   Irreversible Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments